The harp, with its soothing timbre and spiritual associations, has been revered as a healing instrument by many cultures for thousands of years. Over the past two decades there has been a renewed interest in the use of the harp in therapeutic settings. Harp therapy practitioners are employed at hospitals and other institutions worldwide. Others also work in clinics, and some even make house calls.
Harp therapy practitioners receive training and certification from harp therapy training programs. Standards of practice have been established by the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians (NSBTM).
When experiencing therapeutic harp music, subjects have reported increased relaxation, improvement in sleep, decreased pain and anxiety, stabilization of vital signs, and improvement in mood.
Research in the field of harp therapy not only focuses on clinical and case studies, but also explores the unique attributes of the timbre of the harp through cymatics, acoustics and quantum physics.
Harp Therapy at the Bedside
Many harp therapists play their harps at the bedside of patients in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes. Small harps with a range of three to four octaves are generally used for this due to portability issues. Practitioners who do this type of work are trained, not only in music, but also learn how to interact with patients, and how to comport themselves in an institutional setting. Both patients and institutions alike have responded positively to this type of harp therapy. Some institutions require certification for harp therapists.
Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy® or VAHT®
Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy utilizes a vibrotacile device (mat or recliner chair) with embedded transducers (speakers). A harp, fitted with an electronic pickup, is amplified through the vibrotactile chair or mat, delivering the music directly to the subject's body in the form of sound vibration. When the subject senses that specific frequencies (tones) resonate in areas of the body where pain or tension is present, the VAHT practitioner plays music that features and emphasizes those frequencies. Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy is administered in a clinical setting.
Harpists who have been trained in other disciplines such as psychology, music therapy and occupational therapy, use the harp to elicit specific cognitive or behavioral changes in their patients. A harp therapist might also teach an individual to play the harp to assist in pain reduction, to help to overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges, to create a sense of community in a group setting, and to provide physical rehabilitation. Also, end-of-life music vigils are used to help patients achieve peaceful transitions.